KLAAS SCHILDER ON CREATION AND FLOOD (1)* Clarion v. 52 (2003) pp. 137-140 F. G.

Oosterhoff Introduction Some months ago I wrote a series of articles on the relation between faith and science in Reformed thought, giving attention, among other things, to the interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis and the challenge of evolutionism.1 At the time I dealt with the position of the Dutch theologians Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. In the present series, which consists of two articles, I return to the topic and describe the views of a Reformed thinker who is equally well known among us, namely the theologian Klaas Schilder, professor of dogmatics in Kampen from 1934 until his death in 1952. Schilder’s work deserves our attention for at least two reasons. One is that the situation in which he wrote has similarities with the one in which we find ourselves. In his days as in ours, disagreements existed within the Reformed community about the exegesis of the first chapters of Genesis, especially regarding the nature and length of the days of creation. Some insisted that the days had lasted exactly 24 hours and that those who disagreed with that interpretation were assailants of the authority of Scripture. A number of influential Reformed theologians belonged to the latter group. Initially, Schilder himself did not, but when in the 1920s the disagreements came into the open, he joined the fray on behalf of the accused. He did not, however, condemn the ordinary (or 24-hour) day interpretation, and this brings me to the second reason why his work merits our attention. It is that Schilder relativized the issue under discussion, concluding, in effect, that the matter was not really worth fighting over. Although he defended the men of the extraordinary days, he nowhere stated that their exegesis was the definitive one. Apparently both interpretations could be defended. In any case, the question regarding the nature and length of the days was for Schilder of only incidental interest. The important thing was not the conclusion the exegete reached in the matter, but the manner in which he reached it. He had to bow before the absolute authority of God’s Word and, for that very reason, earnestly and diligently search the Word. He was also to give attention to the findings of science and consider whether these made it necessary for him to reconsider the conclusions he had reached. At no time, however, was science to have the last word. Scripture alone decided in exegetical matters; science merely served to help the exegete in his attempt to reach the proper understanding of the text. In short, then, for Schilder the differences between the two groups were differences not of substance but of exegesis, of interpretation. In what follows we will see how he worked out his theme. We will deal not only with the interpretation of the days but also, as the heading shows, with that of the flood – another issue that caused disagreements in his days. As to the format of these articles, we will proceed by simply stating Schilder’s arguments, leaving our evaluation to the concluding section. The occasion The present series owes much to an article in a recent issue of the Westminster Theological Journal.2 The author of that article, Dr. Max Rogland, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America, gives a survey of the views that various Reformed theologians in the Netherlands have held on the days of creation. The theologians he deals with, all of whom lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, are A. Kuyper, H. Bavinck, A. G. Honig, G. Ch. Aalders, and K. Schilder.3 Rogland’s conclusions are interesting. He shows that none of these men held what I shall call, for brevity’s sake, a

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“scientific-creationist” view. It is true, all five rejected a “day-age” interpretation (although at first Bavinck thought that it could perhaps be considered). But they also believed that because of such factors as the absence of the sun, days one to three were unlikely to have been “ordinary” days. Instead, they referred to them as “God’s work days,” “creation days,” “extraordinary days,” and so on. As to the duration of the rest of the days, Kuyper thought that days four to six (or days five and six) were ordinary days, but the others believed that nothing could be said with certainty on this point; the days could well have been considerably longer (or shorter) than our normal 24-hour days. Nevertheless, they insisted that they interpreted Genesis 1 “literally,” by which they meant that they treated the creation account not as symbolic or mythical or allegorical, but as truly factual and historical.4 We will come back to that point. The views of the first four men are of interest, but we will, for the sake of brevity, largely ignore them and concentrate on Schilder. Much of Schilder’s work on the topic was published shortly after the special Synod of Assen, 1926, and was indirectly inspired by it. This Synod had been called to deal with the Geelkerken case. Dr. J. G. Geelkerken, a minister in the Reformed churches, had been accused of having intimated (in a sermon on Lord’s Day 3 and in later writings) that the statements in Genesis 2 and 3 regarding the two special trees in paradise and the speaking serpent did not have to be interpreted in what he called the traditional manner, namely as historical and factual. The paradise account, he said, spoke of matters belonging not to the world as we experience it, but to a “higher reality.” By implication, a symbolic or allegorical interpretation could well be legitimate.5 When the issue came before the Synod, Geelkerken said that he accepted the historicity and factuality of the events recounted in the two chapters, but nevertheless demanded the freedom to consider a different exegesis than the “traditional” one. Continued scientific investigation, he believed, could well make that interpretation untenable, and exegetes therefore should not be bound to it. The Synod denied the legitimacy of Geelkerken’s position. It declared (a) that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent and its speaking, and the tree of life are, according to the clear intention of the scriptural narrative of Genesis 2 and 3, to be taken in a factual (eigenlijke) or literal sense, and thus were realities observable by the senses; and (b) that therefore the meaning of Dr. Geelkerken that one can dispute whether these matters and facts were realities observable by the senses, without coming into conflict with the authority of Holy Scripture confessed in articles 4 and 5 of the Belgic Confession, must be rejected. Geelkerken was asked to sign a statement indicating his agreement with the Synod’s decision. His refusal to do so led to his suspension. When he nevertheless preached the following Sunday, the Synod deposed him. Geelkerken and his supporters then seceded from the Reformed churches and established a new federation, the so-called Gereformeerde Kerken in Hersteld Verband. Geelkerken had not been accused of questioning the historicity of the creation account, and Assen therefore did not deal with the exegesis of Genesis 1. Some of Geelkerken’s supporters, however, believed that it should have done so, and especially that it should have pronounced on the nature and length of the days of creation, since disagreements on that issue existed among Reformed believers. Some, as we already noted, held the six days to be ordinary, 24-hour days, whereas others believed that an extraordinary-day interpretation might well be called for. Even some members of Synod Assen believed this. Among them were two of the professors we already mentioned, namely A. G. Honig and G. Ch. Aalders, who were advisors to this Synod, and four other theologians, who served the Synod in the same capacity.6 By failing to pronounce on the matter, the critics argued, the Synod had been inconsistent and treated Geelkerken unfairly.

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An attack upon “Assen” Among those who raised this criticism was the author of an anonymous pamphlet, which saw the light in 1928 under the title Zijn de mannen van Assen zelf aanranders van het Schriftgezag?7 This pamphlet (which was, as appeared later, from the hand of J. L. Jaspers, a minister-emeritus within the Reformed churches) did not restrict itself to the interpretation of Genesis 1 but explored pronouncements by Reformed theologians on a variety of other issues. Jaspers accused one theologian, for example, of a “non-literal” explanation of Scripture by stating that the book of Ecclesiastes was not authored by Solomon. Another (Abraham Kuyper) was attacked for suggesting that the Genesis flood may not have covered the entire earth, but only the inhabited part. To Jaspers’ accusations Schilder responded with a brochure of his own, which he entitled Een hoornstoot tegen Assen? 8 It was in this brochure that he set forth in detail his views on the disagreements regarding the days of creation and the flood, and on the manner in which they were to be resolved. A brief note on Schilder’s approach is in order. His concern was not simply to arbitrate between the diverging positions held by Jaspers and “the men of Assen” on Genesis 1. It was also, and especially, to challenge the claim that the exegesis of the “men of Assen” (or that of Kuyper on the flood) was comparable to Geelkerken’s position on Genesis 2 and 3. As a result, there is an element in the brochure that is perhaps not immediately relevant for our readers. Schilder’s concern with Geelkerken does not, however, greatly detract from the interest his brochure has for us, since it did not prevent him from dealing at length with the issue that dominates the discussion today – namely the question whether in Genesis 1 the Bible definitely speaks of “ordinary days” or whether it allows a “non-ordinary day” exegesis. Sun, moon, and stars Before turning to the matter of the duration of the days, we will deal with Schilder’s treatment of a related controversy, which Jaspers’ brochure had also mentioned. It concerned the relationship between the first day, when God called forth light, and the fourth day, when he made sun, moon, and stars. One of the questions that is often asked in this connection concerns the source of light during the first three days, before the appearance of the sun. Some Reformed exegetes have suggested that the sun existed already before the fourth day, and that the light of the first three days came from it. Among those who had made this suggestion was Dr. W. H. J. W. Geesink, a professor of ethics at the Free University of Amsterdam and one of the advisers to the Synod of Assen. It was on his work that Jaspers focused when he attacked the position as a violation of the authority of Scripture. Responding to Jaspers’ accusation, Schilder began by stating that his own or Jaspers’ or anyone else’s opinion on the validity of Geesink’s point of view was irrelevant. The only question to be decided was whether Geesink’s exegesis and pronouncements constituted an attack upon the authority of Scripture. Schilder answered that question in the negative. He argued as follows (pp. 33-37): 1. Geesink upholds the biblical teaching that it was not until the fourth day that the sun became a light for the earth. 2. Geesink questions the idea that the material of sun, moon, and stars was created on the fourth day, and he is, Schilder says, right in doing so. To say that it was created on that day would be in conflict with Genesis 1:1, which speaks of the “first creation,” that of heaven and earth, as separate from the “second creation,” that of the six days.9 Schilder points out that in stating that the material of sun, moon, and stars was created well before these bodies were placed in the firmament, Geesink is in agreement with Calvin and other orthodox scholars, some of whom Jaspers, strangely enough, attempts to use against him.10

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3. These earlier scholars, Schilder shows, further emphasized that while Genesis 1:1 speaks of the creation of heaven and earth, the rest of the creation account concentrates on the earth alone. Sun, moon and stars are described from the perspective of the earth and therefore only with a view to their importance for life on earth. Genesis 1:14-19, the scholars in question make clear, proposes no scientific theory regarding the origin of the heavenly bodies as such. These points Geesink had also made. 4. Schilder further draws attention to the fact that Genesis 1:14 uses not the Hebrew word for creating, but that for preparing, making ready. The choice of that word in this particular case may again be seen as proof, he believes, that the heavenly bodies were not created on the fourth day, but that they were only made ready on that day in order to be placed in the firmament.11 5. In this connection Schilder quotes Calvin, who in his Commentaries on Genesis went even further than Geesink and suggested that beings like the fishes (which the Bible clearly states were created – rather than simply prepared or made ready – on the fifth day) had their beginning in an earlier act of creation and were given “form” only on the fifth day.12 If Calvin’s teaching that marine animals had their beginning long before the fifth day is not a violation of the authority of Scripture, he says, then neither is Geesink’s conclusion. Schilder continues the discussion on the fourth day with another quotation from Calvin, wherein the Genevan Reformer rejects the idea that in Genesis 1 Moses speaks as a philosopher or scientist. Rather, he says, Moses accommodated himself to the worldview and understanding of his original readers, many of whom were uneducated, and all of whom were unacquainted with the findings of modern science. The quotation in question refers to verse 16, which mentions God’s making of the “two great lights,” the sun and the moon, which were placed in the firmament to give light respectively to the day and the night, and his making of the stars. Calvin writes: …Moses makes two great luminaries; but astronomers prove, by conclusive reasons, that … Saturn, which, on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labour whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study [astronomy] is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned… Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfil his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction.13 Schilder adds that Calvin followed a similar kind of reasoning elsewhere in his exegesis of Genesis 1:14-19. With respect to verse 14, for example, he said that Moses relates only (“nothing else than”) that God established fixed bodies which would spread throughout the world the light that had already been created. Schilder emphasizes the words “relates” and “nothing else than.” With the use of these words Calvin implied, he says, that further questions fall beyond the boundary of revelation (p. 38). It may be added here that Calvin draws attention also to the order of the events of days 1 and 4, telling us that this order shows that God does not depend on the light-bearing bodies he creates; that “he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.”14 As to Jasper’s attack upon Geesink, Schilder mentions that many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed believers agreed with the views Geesink [and Calvin] held, but that there were also those who disagreed. The differences at the time were seen simply, however, as differences in exegesis. At no point were the words “violation of or assault upon the authority of Scripture” used (pp. 38f.). It would be good,

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Schilder writes, if the anonymous pamphleteer and his associates possessed some of that same “generosity and power of discernment” (p. 39). In the second article we will look at the controversy regarding the length of the days of creation, the charge that a “non-ordinary” interpretation of the days opens the door to the acceptance of evolutionism, and Kuyper’s exegesis of the flood. -------------------------------------------------____________________________________________________________________________________
Suggestions for highlights:

The question regarding the nature and length of the days of creation was for Schilder of only “incidental” interest. The differences between the two groups were differences not of substance but of exegesis, of interpretation. Calvin, Schilder reminds us, rejected the idea that in Genesis 1 Moses speaks as a philosopher or scientist. Rather, Moses accommodated himself to the worldview and understanding of his original readers. Calvin draws attention to the order of the events of days 1 and 4, telling us that this order shows that God does not depend on the light-bearing bodied he creates; that “he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.

NOTES
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Clarion, February 1 and 15; March 1, 15, 29, 2002.

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Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. 63 (2001), pp. 211-33. I thank Dr. Tony Jelsma of Dordt College for drawing my attention to this article. Kuyper and Bavinck were introduced in the previous series. A. G. Honig (1864-1940) was Bavinck’s successor as professor of dogmatics in Kampen; G. Ch.Aalders (1880-1961) was professor of Old Testament at the Free University; K. Schilder (1890-1952) succeeded Honig as professor of dogmatics in Kampen.

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Rogland, pp. 227f. For the view of influential Reformed theologians of Dutch background in North America who held that Genesis speaks of “ordinary” days, see ibid., pp. 229-33. The question why North America appears to be more hospitable to the “ordinary days” position (and also to creation-scientist views) than Europe is an intriguing one. For an account and evaluation of the matters at issue, see Rogland, as well as C. Trimp, Om the klaarheid der waarheid: Een taxatie van de leeruitspreaak van “Assen-1926” en haar terzijdestelling in 1967 (Groningen: Vuurbaak, 1967), and G. Ch. Aalders, De Exegese van Gen. 2 en 3 en de beslissing der Synode van Assen (Kampen: Kok, n.d.).
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The other four were W. H. J. W. Geesink (1854-1929), professor of ethics at the Free University, J. Ridderbos (1879-1960), professor of O.T. in Kampen, F. W. Grosheide (1885-1972), professor of N.T. at the Free University, and C. van Gelderen (1872-1945), professor of O.T. at the Free University. As to the last-mentioned one, Rogland says that it is not altogether certain but “most likely” that he agreed that the days of creation were probably “extraordinary” ones. Rogland, pp. 228f.

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English translation: Are the men of Assen themselves assailants of the authority of Scripture? The subtitle was: Een conscientiekreet door een gereformeerd predikant (A cry of conscience by a reformed pastor). The brochure was first issued in 1928. References will be to the second edition, published in 1929, and will be given by page number(s) only. In quotations from Schilder’s work I have often omitted italics. As this statement shows, Schilder understood the creation account to speak of two separate acts of creation, the one described in Genesis 1:1 and 2, and the other in the account of the six days (the so-called Hexameron). The verses 1 and 2 dealt, then, with the beginning of creation; the six days with the completion. The same view was held by Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, and Aalders. Rogland, pp. 227f., note 68. Calvin in his commentary on Genesis 1 does not use the terms “first” and “second” creation, but he seems to make a similar distinction as Schilder c.s., for example when writing that the “confused mass” of vs. 2 “was to be the seed of the whole world,” and also, as will appear presently, in his account of the fifth day. John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses called Genesis, John King, transl. (Grand Rapids: Baker Bookhouse, 1984), p. 70.

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Schilder implies that not everybody may agree that in Genesis 1 one can clearly distinguish between the meaning of these two words, although he himself thinks one can (p. 36).
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Calvin, Commentaries, p. 89. Ibid., pp. 86f. For similar pronouncements, see the same work, pp. 79, 80, 84, 85.

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Calvin’s statement on the issue is worth quoting at greater length. Calvin writes: “It did not…happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments, the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: and, according to our notions, we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very order of his creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.” Commentaries, p. 76; see also pp. 82f.

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KLAAS SCHILDER ON CREATION AND FLOOD (2)* Clarion v. 52 (2003) pp. 161-164 by F. G. Oosterhoff The days of creation We continue with Schilder’s defence of the Reformed theologians who had been accused of wrongly interpreting the creation account. The accusation, as we saw in the previous article, was made by supporters of Dr. J. G. Geelkerken, the man whose views on Genesis 2 and 3 had been condemned by the Synod of Assen of 1926. One of Geelkerken’s champions, the Rev. J. L. Jaspers, responded to the Synod’s decision by means of an anonymous pamphlet. Herein he argued that various members of the Synod (people he referred to as “the men of Assen”) lacked the moral authority to judge Geelkerken, since they themselves departed from the literal teaching of Scripture. He based his accusation on the fact that according to these theologians the days of creation may not have been 24 hours in length. Schilder introduced this particular controversy as follows (see pp. 39-46 of his brochure): Jaspers knows that there are people who do not consider the days of Genesis 1 to have lasted 24 hours, or who at least dare not state with absolute certainty that the author of Genesis 1 intended that meaning, and who therefore in principle admit the possibility of those days having been periods of unknown length. This leads him (Jaspers) to the following conclusion: Assen says that Geelkerken must read literally what the Bible states. Anyone, however, who does not interpret the word “day” in Genesis 1 as a 24-hour period (not a second more, not a second less), does not read literally. And therefore, those among the “men of Assen” who hold that position are guilty of placing a burden on Dr. Geelkerken which they themselves refuse to touch. Nor is that all. Assen’s verdict in the Geelkerken case implies that such men are themselves assailants of the authority of Scripture. In his reply, Schilder challenges Jaspers’ statement that Synod Assen has spoken of “the normal literal interpretation of Holy Scripture,” pointing out that Assen did not and could not have done so. In fact, it admitted that there are statements in Scripture, also in the paradise account, that one cannot take “literally.” Anthropomorphisms (such as descriptions of God’s actions in human terms) can serve as an example. The issue between Assen and Geelkerken, Schilder says, was not between “literal” and “nonliteral” in this sense. It was about the interpretation of events that the Bible (in Genesis 2 and 3) clearly describes as historical and factual, as having occurred in the time and space of our common reality, but that Geelkerken believes can be interpreted as non-historical and non-factual, as allegorical or symbolic representations of a “higher reality.” And that, Schilder says, is different from what is at issue in the dispute regarding the days of Genesis 1. For none of the “men of Assen” promoted a non-historical or non-factual interpretation of these days. All agreed that creation took place in time and space; that the days, whether or not they lasted 24 hours, were periods of real time (p. 40). “A day of 24 hours or of 25 hours, of 240 hours or of 2400 hours, and so on,” he says, such as day is still a period of time and of our normal, real world; it is by no means a matter of a “higher reality.” On the other hand, when Geelkerken says that “that tree…is not to be understood as a tree, and that ‘eating’ was perhaps no eating at all, and so on, then we have an altogether different situation from the one wherein one says: the six days were periods, measurable in time; we differ on the question whether they were periods as we measure them now or whether they were of a different measurement. But they certainly were periods in time, fragments of time” (pp. 42f.). This interpretation, he adds, cannot be compared with that of Geelkerken, which treats of historical events as non-real (oneigenlijk) and non-factual.

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Another point Schilder raises is that of biblical warrant for one’s interpretation. Jaspers complained in his brochure that Geelkerken was told that Scripture must provide the grounds and justification for his exegesis, but that the men who held the disputed view on the days of creation did not themselves base their conclusions on Scripture. Schilder challenges this statement. The exegesis of these men, he says, may well have been incorrect, but that is not at issue here. What counts is that they tried to prove that their viewpoint was warranted by Scripture, something Geelkerken did not do with his teaching of a “higher reality” (p. 43). Schilder tells his readers, as he has done before, that in the matter of the days he does not take sides and that, in any event, his own position is irrelevant. For even the most determined opponent of the view that the days were not 24 hours in length will agree with him, he says, that in principle justice is done to Scripture if in our exegesis we meet the following three conditions: 1. that not a single notion is allowed to enter our believing thought unless we truly believe that we may derive it from Scripture or can reconcile it with Scripture; 2. that extra-biblical scholarly research may never be the norm or standard (bindende maatstaf) for our believing thought (it always can and may and indeed must be occasion [aanleiding] for a further testing of our insight, since we can be mistaken in saying: thus speaks Scripture;1 but it may never be the norm or standard; so that, when it is certain that Scripture teaches such and such a thing, no science may ever exalt itself as the judge of Scripture); 3. that the reality whereof one speaks remains the reality of the time wherein we live here on earth with all creatures, and of the space wherein God placed the world (p. 44). And these conditions, he says, the “men of Assen” met in their speaking about Genesis 1. In view of the foregoing it is irrelevant, Schilder believes, whether in the “incidental case” of the days Jaspers and Geelkerken and their supporters are right and someone else is wrong. The question is and remains how the exegete is reasoning, what his position is with respect to the concept of revelation (openbaringsbegrip) of Holy Scripture, and whether he is willing or not to bow before Scripture once its express meaning has been clearly established (p. 45). When interpreters do submit to Scripture, they may disagree on certain matters, but their differences remain within the realm of exegesis. Schilder concludes his remarks on the controversy of the days by asking Jaspers to consider whether it is really all that foolish to accept the possibility that our rest- and workweek of seven 24-hour periods is a reflection of the seven divine periods in God’s week of creation and Sabbath rest. But then always, he adds, God’s week of working in time and space (p. 45). Fear of evolutionism One of the reasons why many Christians cling to the belief that Genesis 1 speaks of ordinary, 24hour days is the fear that any other interpretation will lead to the acceptance of the theory of evolution. Jaspers also had used this argument. He stated in his pamphlet that the danger of the evolutionary theory infiltrating the Reformed churches was immanent; that in fact the “men of Assen” opened the door to it (p. 47). Schilder takes issue with Jasper’s view of evolution, which he says is too limited. It is superficial to say that the theory concerns only, or even primarily, the origin and development of the earth and of the species inhabiting it. Evolutionary theories do not stop with geology and biology and other sciences but infiltrate every sphere of life and thought and belief – including the sphere of religion. Especially today, now that the Reformed concept of revelation is at the centre of the spiritual warfare, the most important question is whether the content of Scripture is a revelation which came from above, from God, or whether it derives, in part or in whole, from the milieu wherein the authors lived – specifically the milieu of the

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ancient oriental world. The question is, therefore, whether Israel’s religion, the biblical doctrine of monotheism, the exalted concept of God, the messages in the first chapters of Genesis regarding man’s original righteousness, his sin, and his redemption in Jesus Christ – whether all this is the fruit of human development OR the work of God, a work that he revealed to us. For that reason, he adds, if the question of evolution must be raised, Jaspers should look not only at the “men of Assen” but also at Geelkerken, who, after all, spoke of ”oriental light” and an “oriental kind of narrative” in defending his position regarding Genesis 2 and 3 (p. 47). Schilder does not say that Geelkerken favoured evolution, but neither does he agree that the “men of Assen” promoted it. In connection with this accusation he once again addresses the question as to how the interpreter arrives at his exegesis. He answers (as Kuyper and Bavinck did before him) that much depends on one’s presuppositions. Someone who accepts evolution but also wants to retain the Bible will, he says, naturally try to interpret the days as ages, preferably spanning millions of years. But such a person is not led to his acceptance of evolution as a result of his biblical exegesis. The opposite is true: his belief in evolution has led him to his exegesis. It is conceivable that in such a case someone else, who also holds to a day-age interpretation but on altogether different grounds, will be among those who must judge the former. In short, what looks to be the same is not necessarily the same. The one may have come to his conclusion by denying the authority of Scripture, the other by honestly attempting to uphold it (pp. 48f.). As to the specific threat of evolutionism, Schilder writes: So long as the “men of Assen” cling to the concept of “creation,” and to the transcendental meaning of “God said,” and to the difference between the first and the second creation, and to the doctrine of the Logos [the divine Word], and to the absolute “in the beginning,” and so on – so long as all this is the case, so long will there be a dam that will stop any fundamental turn to the doctrine of evolution (p. 49).2 The Flood We must look yet at Schilder’s defence of Abraham Kuyper’s exegesis of the flood. Kuyper, we saw, had considered the possibility that the flood had not covered the entire earth. Jaspers attacked Kuyper’s position, insisting that the Bible does not allow for his interpretation, since we read in Genesis 7:19 that “all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.” Kuyper’s exegesis, Jaspers said, implied the possible survival not only of wild animals but even of human beings. This would mean that the human race did not necessarily come from Noah alone, and that God’s covenant with Noah lost its validity. Schilder took the controversy seriously, as is evident from the fact that he devoted more space to this topic than to any of the other ones (pp. 15-27). He began by declaring that Jaspers had overstated his case. Kuyper’s dilemma had been: either the entire earth was covered, or only the inhabited part, which obviously meant the part where the entire human family lived. The part of the earth that perhaps had not been covered was located on the other side of the earth from Noah, namely the area of the Americas and so on, which Kuyper apparently believed were still uninhabited in Noah’s days – that is, before the dispersion of mankind at Babel. In any event, he taught expressly that with the exception of Noah and his family all of Adam’s living descendents had perished in the flood. Humanity was also according to Kuyper descended from Noah and from him alone (p. 16). Another problem with Jaspers’ account, Schilder noted, was that Jaspers ignored the arguments that can be marshalled in support of Kuyper’s position. Kuyper had mentioned that there are other places where the Bible speaks of “the entire earth” when only a part is meant, for example in John 21:25 and Lamentations 4:12. Apparently such hyperbolic speaking was Hebrew usage. Schilder added other

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examples, such as Acts 2:5, which states that at Pentecost there were Jews in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven,” Deuteronomy 2:25, where Moses is told that “this very day” God would put the fear of Israel “on all the nations under heaven,” and Judges 6:40, where we read (in the Dutch Statenvertaling) that Gideon’s fleece was dry but the entire earth (de gansche aarde) was covered with dew (pp. 17f., 21). Schilder further points out that the Hebrew word used in Gen. 6:7 for “earth” often means not the earth as a whole but only the part that can be or has already been brought under cultivation. He admits that the biblical account creates the impression that the destruction wreaked by the flood was universal, but maintains that for the biblical author “the world” referred to the part of the earth that was inhabited, had a history, and was known to the people of the time. For that reason, to ask whether the earth is meant here as a geographic or a cultural-historical entity is not, he says, an assault upon the authority of Scripture, but simply an attempt to do justice to all the data (pp. 18f.). Nor was Kuyper the first to consider choosing the second alternative. Schilder mentions that ancient Jewish theologians, as well as Christian thinkers of past and present, have held an opinion similar to Kuyper’s. He further tells us that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) leaves out the adjective “entire” in Genesis 7:19. The theologians of the Synod of Dort who wrote the notes (Kanttekeningen) for the Dutch Bible translation, the Statenvertaling, did not take sides in this particular issue, but were sufficiently cautious to refrain form commenting on Genesis 7:19. This is remarkable, he says, because in other places they do tend to explain this kind of expression. In any event, it can’t be said that Kuyper was an innovator (pp. 18-24). Schilder shows that Kuyper considered the possibility of a limited flood because he thought that the context required it. Specifically, as we will see, he believed that some animals must have survived the flood. But was Jaspers not right in complaining that such a view directly contradicts the information we receive in the account of the flood? Don’t we read in Gen. 6:13 (Statenvertaling): “The end of all flesh has come before my face…” (RSV: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh…”)? Dealing with this complaint, Schilder answers that Genesis 6:13 does not necessarily say what Jaspers thinks it says. To do justice to the text, he says, one has to begin by determining what is meant by the word “end” and the word “flesh.” The first word can mean death, but it can also mean (as the Septuagint appears to interpret it) the (remaining) time allotted to all flesh. And the term “flesh” can be translated in a variety of ways. There are places in the Bible where it indeed means all creatures, but elsewhere it refers to human beings alone, or to all sorts of human beings, or to the number of people living in a specific area, or to the animals as opposed to human beings, and so on (pp. 22f.). The meaning, in short, is not as clear as it seems to be at first sight. This, Schilder adds, applies also to other texts, such as Genesis 7:14, where we read that “every wild animal according to its kind,” “all livestock according to their kinds,” etcetera, went into the ark. Referring once again to the Statenvertaling, Schilder shows that already according to the Kanttekeningen the words “every” and “all” in this text and in similar ones often mean “all sorts of” [allerlei]. The same explanation is given of the word “every” in “every kind of food that is to be eaten” in Gen. 6:21 (p. 24). Schilder suggests that one of the reasons why the writers of the Kanttekeningen came to their conclusion was the question how there could have been room in the ark for representatives of all the world’s animals. In any event, he adds, if the seventeenth-century theologians who wrote the Kanttekeningen were allowed to attempt connecting the various biblical data while bowing before the authority of Scripture, Kuyper should not be condemned for attempting to do the same (p. 25). For Kuyper also chose among the possibilities which he believed the Bible allowed. Specifically, he thought that Gen. 9:5 (the ordinance protecting man against animals) demanded an exegesis allowing for the survival of wild animals in non-cultivated parts of the world. Schilder does not agree that Genesis 9:5 makes Kuyper’s exegesis of a limited flood necessary. But he also points out that Kuyper was not dogmatic about it. He spoke only of the possibility of a limited flood, and stated that certain parts of

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Scripture do not force us to accept one interpretation over another. And he certainly did not deny the historicity of the flood, the ark, and so on, or the truly catastrophic nature of the event; Jaspers was therefore mistaken in stating that Kuyper gave a “non-factual” exegesis. Nor did Kuyper come to his exegesis for extra-biblical reasons, even though he believed that in retrospect (achteraf) his position was confirmed by extra-biblical data – fossils, height of the mountains, construction of the narrative, and so on (pp.19, 25-7).3 Kuyper’s exegesis may well have been erroneous, Schilder says, but the question is not whether Kuyper (or anyone else) has made mistakes in attempting to interpret Scripture, but whether one places oneself above the Bible…and allows one’s own insight to dictate what the Bible CAN and MAY say – or whether one submits to the Bible itself, and makes one’s own insight captive to it – and in all cases where one does not know what the Bible means, honestly admits: I don’t know, but I prefer to reserve my conclusion, if necessary until after my death, rather than say in my haste that what I read in a certain passage cannot be true, and that therefore I will interpret it according to my own opinion (p. 26). Summary and conclusion So much for Schilder’s arguments. To summarize the main points of the foregoing: 1. It was not Schilder’s purpose to solve the question regarding the nature and length of the days of creation. His goal was to refute the claim that Geelkerken’s symbolic explanation of Genesis 2 and 3 was of the same nature as the exegesis suggested by the “men of Assen” regarding the days of Genesis 1. It was in attempting to demolish that claim that he was forced to deal with the matter of the duration of the days, and that issue, as we have seen, he described as peripheral, incidental. He even refused to give his own opinion on it. That refusal notwithstanding, his statements on the interpretation of the days are extensive and at times explicit. They give us a pretty clear idea of his view on the disputed issue. More importantly, they tell us about the manner in which he believed the controversy on the issue should be resolved. 2. As to his own view on the matter, his defence of the “men of Assen” shows that Schilder was sympathetic toward their exegesis, even if he did not openly endorse it. It does not appear, moreover, that later he came back on that view. His periodical De Reformatie, Rogland tells us, had still in the 1930s “an outspoken ‘extraordinary days’ position.”4 3. It is equally clear, however, that in his opinion Scripture does not make evident beyond doubt how the days should be interpreted. Therefore neither Jaspers’ interpretation nor that of the “men of Assen” was to be condemned, unheard, as a violation of scriptural authority. It so happened that the offenders were the people of the ordinary, 24-hour days, but if the tables had been turned and the offenders had been the accused, it is more than likely that Schilder would have come to their defence. (The same may well have been true with respect to the exegesis of the flood.) This suggests that for Schilder the matter as such was neither a life-and-death issue nor the touchstone of a person’s orthodoxy; that it belonged, rather, to the category of “indifferent things.” 4. Worthy of note is that Schilder does not allow the theory of evolution to influence his exegesis one way or another. He does not attempt to accommodate the Bible to the evolutionary theory, but neither does he try to protect Scripture by looking for arguments by which to refute the theory. It is clear that for him the Bible does not need that protection. (By implication, neither does the believer. As article 5 of the Belgic Confession teaches us, the Christian’s faith in the authority of Scripture rests on better foundations.)5 5. The all-important thing for Schilder was one’s attitude toward Scripture as God’s revealed Word. For him not science, but the Bible provides the guidelines for biblical exegesis. At the same time he tells the 5

exegete neither to ignore the findings of science nor to underestimate them. Whether they are believers or not, scientists come with insights that can, as history has shown, truly help our understanding of the Bible. 6. Schilder by no means provides answers to all the many questions that surround the relationship between Genesis 1 and the conclusions of science. It is only fair to say, however, that he never promised to do so. He would be the last person to claim, for example, that a mere “stretching” of the days of creation would resolve the “conflicts” between faith and science in this particular instance. As the above makes clear, his goal was a different and more limited one. It was to reduce the disagreements regarding the days of creation to exegetical differences and so remove a source of conflict among believers. It is this goal especially that makes it worth our while, I believe, to pay attention to his work. An additional benefit is that by following his lead we can cease looking at Genesis 1 as a source of endless controversy and receive it for what it is, namely God’s Word to us, his Word of salvation. --------------------------------------------*I thank Dr. Jelle Faber, Dr. Riemer Faber, Dr. Tony Jelsma, and Dr. Jitse van der Meer for reading these articles and offering advice. The responsibility for format and contents is mine alone.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________ Suggestions for highlights When interpreters submit to Scripture, they may disagree on certain matters (such as the length of the days of creation), but their differences remain within the realm of exegesis. Schilder asks if it is really all that foolish to consider the possibility that our rest- and workweek of seven 24-hour periods is a reflection of the seven divine periods in God’s week of creation and Sabbath rest. For Schilder, it seems, the matter of the days as such was neither a life-and-death issue nor the touchstone of a person’s orthodoxy; that it belonged, rather, to the category of “indifferent things.” Schilder does not try to protect Scripture by looking for arguments by which to refute the theory of evolution. It is clear that for him the Bible does not need that protection. By implication, neither does the believer. Schilder’s approach makes it possible to cease looking at Genesis 1 as a source of endless controversy and receive it for what it is, namely God’s Word to us, his Word of salvation.

NOTES
1

And therefore, Schilder writes, Geelkerken was not condemned for asking whether as a result of further research, biblical interpreters may not some day have to ask themselves, “Have we perhaps said too quickly that this or that is definitely the teaching of Scripture?” (p. 46).

As for Schilder’s own conservative exegetical approach, see his recent biographer J.J.C. Dee, K.S. Zijn leven en werk, I (Kampen, 1990), p. 159, as well as P. Veldhuizen, God en mens onderweg. Hoofdmomenten uit de theologisch geschiedbeschouwing van Klaas Schilder (Leiden, 1995), p. 54.
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2

For a brief and lucid treatment of the age-old question regarding the extent of the flood, see Carol A. Hill, “The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?” in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, September 2002, pp. 170-83. Rogland, p. 232.

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5

Which is of course not to say that the exegete should not examine and attempt to refute explanations which are contrary to the meaning of Scripture. But that’s a different matter.

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